FORT MCMURRAY (CANADA)
Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune [Alberta, Canada]
July 2, 2021
By Vincent McDermott
Two people who attended the Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan are accusing Father J.A. Turcotte, who has an elementary school named after him in Fort McMurray, of sexually abusing their peers in the 1960s.
“I could hear him do things to the others,” the man said. “He didn’t get what he wanted from me but I watched out for him all the time.”
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said the older students used to call Turcotte “Father Jerk-off.” He was not at the school at the same time as Turcotte, but said stories were common among the older children, including siblings, who knew him.
“They honour him while we walk the streets of Fort McMurray,” said Adam.
Adam made his accusations while speaking at the Bring Our Children Home Healing Rally outside St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in downtown Fort McMurray.
During his speech, he fought tears as he described the physical, sexual and emotional abuse he witnessed at Holy Angels. Adam did not blame the residential schools exclusively on church leaders, since they were also carrying out policies designed by the Canadian politicians and enforced by police.
George McGuigan, superintendent of the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division (FMCSD), said in an email after the event that the school division will investigate these accusations and continue working with Indigenous communities.
“Fort McMurray Catholic Schools will continue to actively listen. Listening may at times be uncomfortable, we will not be pleased with all we hear and learn, but we will continue to have tough conversations and move forward together,” wrote McGuigan. “We all have a part to play in reconciliation. However, truth must come first.”
Turcotte was a Catholic priest who served Fort McMurray first from 1948 and 1958, then between 1963 and 1974. However, he frequently ventured to Catholic missions in rural and Indigenous communities surrounding Fort McMurray. Overall, he spent more than 40 years in the region.
He was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a French order of priests and brothers that ran 57 residential schools. Holy Angels was run by the Grey Nuns, although many Oblate priests also worked at the school.
The Grade 1-6 school bearing his namesake opened in 1969, originally as J.A. Turcotte O.M.I. Elementary School before its current name was adopted in 1983.